I’d love to chalk it up to bad luck – I continually have things go wildly wrong most of the times that I fly Delta.
Here’s what happened this time: for an 8:30pm flight to Accra, Ghana, we dutifully boarded the plane around 7:30pm, taxied out on time and began waiting. And waiting. And waiting. Rains came, and then lightning.
Around 11pm the pilot told us that the storm was moving quickly, that “most of the other planes have returned to their gates but we are keeping our spot.”
Sometime closer to midnight he said that “there are 66 other planes looking to take off” but he still felt we could get out.
A bit after midnight I finally dozed off, and was in and out of consciousness until 2:30am when the pilot threw in the towel, took us back to the gate, and told us to wait by the gate for an early morning departure. It was to be at 6am, then 7am, then 8:30am. After waiting in a plane on the tarmac for six hours, and then sleeping in the terminal for another six hours, Delta cancelled the flight and rebooked us all on a new flight at 8:30pm that evening, 24 hours after our original flight.
Who knows what really happened, whether we actually had a chance to get out and the pilot made the right call. Who knows if it’s true that the Accra airport has a curfew – though all of my Ghanaian colleagues adamantly say that’s not the case.
What was striking through it all was that it was no one’s job to handle the whole situation. The pilot’s job was to get us to take off, which didn’t work out. After that we were handed to a series of gate agents and other representatives, none with any sense of ownership or real responsibility. It was one massive game of pass the buck: at no point did someone stand up and say “I’m the person who is taking care of this situation, here is what’s going on, we’ll have more answers for you by 6:00am.” Divide and conquer can work when things are going smoothly, but it falls apart completely when things go off the rails. This is probably why at one point the NY Police Department had to be brought to the gate to quell a brewing uprising amongst the passengers – complete with threats of barricading security (“if we can’t fly out, then no one can!”).
The one bright spot? Upon lining up (again) the following evening to board the flight, the amazing level of openness and camaraderie amongst all the passengers. We were all in this together. Conversations amongst strangers started effortlessly. We were all smiling and laughing about our shared predicament and the absurdity of it all. One Liberian woman, beaming at counter when I checked in, struck up a conversation with me about how she’d decided to just be happy and upbeat and stop worrying and complaining – she knew it would all work out OK and that was the energy she wanted to put out from that moment forward. I smiled, laughed, and agreed with her, and the next moment I found myself getting a joyful hug from this woman I’d never met.
So there you have it: the moments of genuine human connection brought joy and laughter in the midst of this mess.
And it makes me wonder if it’s when the world around us breaks just a little that we pull together and come together, and if in our hyper-efficient, hyper-virtually-connected world where everything works smoothly, the chances of the impromptu smile, laugh, or hug simply disappear.